Johann Strauss’ effervescent operetta satirizes the decadent society of his time. Before serving a short jail sentence for offending the tax collector, Gabriel von Eisenstein stops by Prince Orlofsky’s ball as a last-minute diversion. Eisenstein and his friends are confounded by masked identities while spouses push the limits of fidelity. After hilarious twists and turns, the evening’s indiscretions are ascribed to the effects of too much bubbly champagne.
Act I A serenade floats through the windows of the Eisenstein home. The serenade is sung for Rosalinde, by her former suitor Alfred who still holds feelings for her despite her marriage to the wealthy Gabriel von Eisenstein. Rosalinde recognizes Alfred’s ringing tenor, and is unable to resist his voice. Adele, Rosalinde’s maid, enters the room reading a letter from her sister Ida, inviting her to a ball at the young Prince Orlofsky’s villa. Wishing to attend, Adele lies and asks for the evening off in order to visit a sick aunt. Rosalinde refuses, as it is her husband’s last night before he is to serve a short prison sentence for a civil offense. Just as Adele leaves the room, Alfred enters to woo Rosalinde. He agrees to leave only on the condition that they will be reunited later in the evening once Eisenstein has been sent to jail. Eisenstein enters amidst an argument with his stuttering lawyer, Dr. Blind. His sentence has just been increased upon appeal. Just as he dismisses his incompetent advocate, Eisenstein’s friend Dr. Falke enters. Falke implores him to delay his stay in jail for a few hours to attend Prince Orlofsky’s party. Excited at the prospect of all the attractive young ladies sure to be in attendance at the party, Eisenstein is quickly persuaded. Rosalinde, now excited for her evening alone with Alfred, releases Adele for the night. As Eisenstein and Adele leave for their evening commitments, Alfred enters. Settling in for their evening together, Alfred dons Eisenstein’s smoking cap and dressing gown. Soon after, the dinner is interrupted by Frank, the governor of the prison. He has arrived to collect Eisenstein for his sentence. In order not to compromise Rosalinde, Alfred agrees to pretend to be Eisenstein. He reluctantly allows himself to be led off, strengthened by a farewell kiss from Rosalinde.
Act II At the palace of Prince Orlofsky, the guests of the party are thoroughly enjoying themselves despite their bored host. In attendance is the young Adele, currently posing as an actress named Olga, with her sister Ida. Falke is discussing with the Prince an elaborate charade in progress, set up by Falke to amuse his highness. Eisenstein is the leading character and victim of this prank, and is introduced as the “Marquis Renard.” Adele is soon spotted by Eisenstein in her mistress’s dress, and when told of her striking resemblance to his wife’s maid, Adele laughs it off. The prison governor, Frank enters pretending to be “Chevalier Chagrin,” and Rosalinde, also invited by Falke, arrives disguised as a masked Hungarian countess. To this point Eisenstein has had great success with the ladies at the party demonstrating his unique watch. When he attempts this technique with the endearing countess, she pockets the watch and now has proof of her husband’s philandering. Rosalinde sings a spirited Hungarian folk dance from her “native land,” champagne flows, and the guests dance until dawn. As the clock strikes six, Eisenstein and Frank both seize their hats and coats and run off to make their appointments at the prison. Act III At the prison, the voice of Alfred can be heard singing in his cell, as the drunken jailer Frosch tries to silence him. Frank enters unsteadily, followed by Adele and Ida. Adele, believing Frank to be a man of obvious influence, is convinced he will be able to help her pursue a career on the stage. When Eisenstein arrives to serve his sentence, he is surprised to encounter the “Chevalier.” Eisenstein reveals his identity, but Frank asserts that he had personally arrested Eisenstein the evening before, and Frosch is sent to fetch him. Anxious to discover who had been arrested in his smoking cap and gown and in the private company of his wife, Eisenstein dons the wig and robe of his lawyer, Blind. He interrogates Rosalinde and Alfred complete with Blind’s stutter, and after hearing their testimony he is compelled to reveal himself as Eisenstein. Rosalinde, unwilling to be unfairly accused of promiscuity, reveals the watch which she had taken from him the previous evening. As all of the company arrive, Falke reveals to Eisenstein that the whole charade had been set up by him. Eisenstein can do nothing but laugh it off, and the group agree that the blame for any wrongdoings can be laid at the door of King Champagne.